Zinc is an essential mineral that your body requires to perform multiple different functions. Zinc is an important element for the creation of DNA, which codes your complete genetic information. It is also necessary for cell production, proper immunity, and healing functions. Zinc deficiency is not very common because it may take months or years to develop symptoms if you lack the required amount of zinc in your diet or blood. Zinc deficiency can be treated by increasing zinc intake in your diet. If diet alone is not enough, zinc supplements are prescribed to counter the deficiency.
One of the common reasons for zinc deficiency is the lack of a proper diet that contains enough zinc required by your body. There is a recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for every diet component. In the United States, the RDA of zinc is 11 mg/day for men and 8 mg/day for women. If a woman is pregnant, RDA is 11 mg/day and 12 mg/day if she is lactating. If your diet is low in zinc, you may develop a deficiency after a long period of time. Examples of food items containing a high amount of zinc include oysters, meat, beans, and nuts.
Certain medical conditions can also lead to zinc deficiency even if you take a proper diet. Acrodermatitis enteropathica is an inherited condition in which your body is unable to resorb zinc from your digestive tract. Other conditions that may lead to zinc deficiency include Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, chronic kidney disease, chronic liver disease, sickle cell anemia, and Wilson’s disease. Zinc deficiency can also be caused due to excessive alcohol intake. Some medications, such as certain antibiotics, diuretics, or iron supplements, may also lead to zinc deficiency.
Risk of zinc deficiency is higher in those who do not have proper availability of diet. Vegetarians have a higher risk because zinc is mostly present in meat and animal products. Babies who are fed exclusively on breast milk may also develop a deficiency because breast milk alone is not sufficient for fulfilling the requirement of zinc. Alcoholics are also at high risk of developing zinc deficiency. Those with pre-existing medical conditions that reduce zinc absorption or cause increased excretion are also at risk.
In the United States, zinc deficiency is very rare. However, on a global scale, it has been estimated that around 25% of the world’s population is at risk of developing zinc deficiency.
Signs and symptoms of zinc deficiency can vary in different individuals depending on its severity. Some common symptoms include diarrhea, delayed wound healing, loss of appetite, weight loss, delayed growth, decreased immunity, recurrent infections, hair loss, and sexual dysfunction. Zinc deficiency can also cause many issues related to skin and mucous membrane, which include acne, eczema, dry skin, dermatitis, oral ulcers, angular cheilitis, etc.
Since zinc is necessary for your immune system, zinc deficiency may lead to recurrence of common infections such as influenza, common cold, sore throat, etc. Severe zinc deficiency can also affect your sense of smell and taste. It has also been associated with causing psychological conditions such as depression and schizophrenia. Zinc deficiency during pregnancy or lactation can lead to many issues regarding proper growth and development.
Diagnosis of zinc deficiency is difficult because it manifests with a wide range of symptoms. Plasma levels of zinc are also not a reliable indicator because they may appear normal even when you have a deficiency. Your doctor will require a detailed history, including your dietary intake, alcohol intake, past medical conditions, use of medications, etc. Based on your history and presenting clinical symptoms, your doctor may be able to diagnose zinc deficiency. Blood tests can also be done to determine the level of zinc and other associated abnormalities such as anemia.
There are many different causes of zinc deficiency. Dietary causes should not be mistaken for any underlying medical condition and vice versa. For a more accurate diagnosis, it is necessary to obtain a detailed history as it can help identify a possible cause of zinc deficiency.
The preferred method of treating zinc deficiency is to increase the intake of a diet rich in zinc. Some common food substances that contain zinc include oysters, red meat, crabs, chicken, pork, beans, nuts, and dairy products such as yogurt and cheese. If you are a vegetarian, you can include more beans and nuts in your diet to fulfill this deficiency. Your doctor may advise a diet plan to control the amount of daily zinc intake. In most people, intake of proper diet is the only treatment required. If you have severe zinc deficiency, zinc supplements will also be prescribed. Pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers may need zinc supplements if diet alone is not enough to provide enough zinc for them and their child.
No medicines are required to treat zinc deficiency. However, if you are already taking any medications, consult your doctor before taking zinc supplements because zinc can interact with some of the drugs. Excessive zinc levels may result in zinc toxicity.
Zinc deficiency can be treated well with proper diet intake and zinc supplements if necessary. The treatment may take a few weeks or months to recover from the symptoms of zinc deficiency.
Zinc deficiency can be prevented by including zinc-rich products in your diet. In some countries, zinc is directly added to soil to increase the yield of products that are rich in zinc. Certain food products such as wheat or flour can also be fortified with zinc. The best way to prevent zinc deficiency is to include meat, seafood, beans, nuts, and dairy products in your diet.
Our clinical experts continually monitor the health and medical content posted on CURA4U, and we update our blogs and articles when new information becomes available. Last reviewed by Dr.Saad Zia on June 04, 2023.
Zinc deficiency - symptoms, causes, diagnosis and treatment | healthdirect
Zinc Deficiency - StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf (nih.gov)